Without a doubt, the hardest homework I ever set for any of the women I work with is:
Slow down with food.
It sounds so easy. Almost too easy.
But without fail, everyone comes to their next session saying,
“OMG, I promise I tried, but that slowing down thing is HARD.”
And it is. We all struggle with living life in our heads, with keeping our minds in the here and now, and with paying attention to our food as we eat it.
So, I’m going to show you how.
Why bother being more mindful and present with food?
Here’re a couple of reasons:
- “mindful eating …facilitate[s] improvement in dietary intake, modest weight loss, and glycemic control.” (research is here)
- “[There are] benefits for use of mindfulness training on weight-gain prevention in healthy individuals.” (research is here)
- “…mindful eating may have a greater influence on serving size than daily mindfulness.” (research is here)
Here are some specific ways being present with food help you, your eating, and your weight:
When you’re living your life in your head and forgetting to live in the moment, it makes you so much more stressed and less able to focus. Mark Sission, of Mark’s Daily Apple, says:
“Distraction of various sorts can be a self-sabotaging undercurrent for all of our endeavors. In fact, it’s entirely possible to live an entire life that almost continuously hovers in some parallel plane, directed by the same old narratives, typical roles and emotional agenda regardless of what’s in front of our faces.”
When you’re able to focus on ‘right now’, the rest of the noise and crap can fall away and you can simply enjoy where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re eating. Eating slowly and getting present with food has been shown to reduce stress, make you feel more positive, and help you stop worrying and be less distracted.
Which leads to…
And as if that wasn’t enough,
Mindful eating + less stress + better digestion =
Better food choices
Alex Jamieson, Queen of cravings, says in her book that when we’re present and consciously choose to act:
“The ritual, the habit, [of craving + overeating] has been broken, or at least put on pause, and what rushes in to fill its place is possibility and choice.”
What she means is that when you’re able to slow down and be present with food, and when you’ve got less stress and are digesting your food better, you will be able to make food choices from a calmer place. That unconscious mess + rush of uncontrollable craving or binge eating is less likely to take over when you break the frenzy and slow down.
More reliable hunger signals
And finally, the brain has a lot more to do with feeling full than you think. Usually, we give all the credit to our stomachs, but research shows that seeing, smelling, and tasting our food has a huge impact on how you experience fullness. If you’re able to slow down, be mindful and present with food, and truly notice what you’re eating, you’ll be much more able to eat the amount that’s right for you.
How can you be more mindful and present with food today?
1. Breathe before meals
Pause before you eat and take three deep breaths. Look at your food, smell your food, take a photo of your food. Be grateful that you have that food and carry that awareness as you eat. How can you remember to do this? I use the Meal Logger app– sharing meal photos might be a reminder to pause. Or, put a sticky note on your desk, lunch box, or fridge to remind you.
You can also check out my End Unwanted Eating Quick-Guide for more info.
2. Take regular breaks
Schedule ‘mindfulness breaks’ throughout your work day.
Use a computer timer or your phone to remind you to take a break for a minute. You can use this time to do any number of mindfulness exercises – use your senses, write down something you are grateful for at that moment, stick your head out a window and breathe in some fresh air, do a quick calm.com session.
This makes you less likely to use food as an excuse to take a break, and also trains your brain to better at ‘doing’ mindfulness – which helps when you try to slow down with food.
3. Write it out.
Take a couple of minutes before your meal to keep a cravings or emotional eating journal. This can help you identify emotional patterns in your eating so you can stop using food to fill yourself up when you don’t actually need to.
4. Use your senses
This one requires no extra time, space, or equipment – you just have to use all six of your sense to experience your food. These are:
5. Just eat
Stop multitasking while you eat. As this research shows, multitasking is the enemy of presence and mindfulness. Multitasking guarantees you’ll be thinking about everything except your present self and situation. Try switching off your computer screen, putting your phone on airplane mode, and doing nothing but eat your food.
6. Have a schedule + a plan
Instead of eating whatever’s around whenever you feel a bit peckish (or bored), try planning not only your meals and snacks but when you’ll eat them, too.
This gives you a huge way to reduce anxiety around food and gives you the time and space to be mindful in your eating. This is seriously one of the best things you can do for yourself. If you need help getting started with meal planning, click here.
7. Try meditation
And finally, I’d be shortchanging you if I didn’t mention the mother of all mindfulness activities: meditation.
This doesn’t have to be some big, intimidating thing where you sit on the floor with your legs crossed, but I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s super easy, either. Anyone who’s being honest will tell you that meditating takes work, but that the benefits are worth it.
Some apps I love are:
This study found that you don’t even have to have any meditation experience to get some great benefits, so there’s hope for me yet! If traditional meditation isn’t your thing, have a look at my post about Zentangle – a form of meditation involving drawing.
Pick just one or two of these to try over the next week. Set yourself alarm reminders in your phone (you will forget to be mindful!), and start practicing.
Being mindful and present with food isn’t easy. It can be especially hard if you’ve had a rough relationship with food in the past and don’t trust yourself to stop eating or to enjoy your food (<< take the 14-day challenge!). It can be scary and difficult to stay on track, but the benefits are definitely worth it.